Not skiable, not buildable? Pitco debates zoning of mining claims |

Not skiable, not buildable? Pitco debates zoning of mining claims

A collection of old mining claims on the western edge of the Aspen Mountain ski area is not the sort of place where Pitkin County would like to see a house sprout up.

But county commissioners were stymied last week on the best way to zone the property to ensure the land, much of it steep slopes dotted with mine tailings and other remnants of mining, remains just that.

“I don’t think any of those are appropriate for houses,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper, surveying a map of the claims.

The county is a part owner in four of the eight claims, known collectively as the Park Tunnel properties, which extend west from the Ruthie’s chairlift, outside the ski area. The land is perched above Keno Gulch.

The claims have multiple owners, but all are apparently in agreement that they’d like the parcels rezoned Rural and Remote, which would allow them to sell development rights off the land, recouping some value from the property, while sterilizing it from development. The parcels could then be handed over to the U.S. Forest Service.

“My understanding is, everybody’s on board,” said Debbie Quinn, assistant county manager.

Everybody except, perhaps, the county commissioners.

The claims are currently zoned AF-SKI, which is apparently an error, since the claims aren’t within the ski area, said Ellen Sassano, the county’s long-range planner.

“As a practical matter, no one is skiing on those properties,” she said, noting the decidedly challenging topography. “These parcels are not part of the ski area.”

Commissioners Shellie Roy and Jack Hatfield suggested leaving the existing zoning in place anyway, as it precludes residential development for all practical purposes.

“If we rezone it Rural and Remote, they don’t have to sever the development rights. They could build cabins,” Roy said. “If we rezone to Rural and Remote, we’re n see Claims on

allowing development there.”

The Rural and Remote zoning, applied to backcountry parcels with limited access and no utilities, allows cabins of up to 1,000 square feet. Or, owners may sell a TDR, or transferable development right, used to boost development rights in other areas where the county deems it more appropriate. The sale of a TDR prevents future development on the parcel that produced it.

The eight mining claims are worth about five TDRs, Quinn estimated. The owners intend to sell them, not build cabins on the properties, she said. As a part owner, the county would get a share of the proceeds.

“To me, it looks like an opportunity to cash out on a liability,” Roy complained. Rezoning the claims to Rural and Remote would give them development value that doesn’t exist now, she argued.

“People are going to take the value out of parcels of land that are close to undevelopable,” she said.

If the county rejects the Rural and Remote plan, the other owners could seek a more intensive rezoning, countered Commissioner Dorothea Farris. A neighboring mining claim is zoned AFR-10, which allows a 5,750-square-foot house.

Some commissioners called for a broader rezoning to Rural and Remote, covering all parcels in the vicinity that aren’t within the ski area or already in the hands of the Forest Service.

County staffers were directed to explore a more sweeping rezoning and to check with the Forest Service to see if the agency would take the parcels, if TDRs are severed and sold.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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